Alumni Spotlight: Naomi Campbell

Naomi grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2012. She studied abroad in Santiago, Chile and wrote a thesis on indigenous rights during the Chilean dictatorship. She is starting her first year at Harvard Law School.

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Why did you decide to intern abroad with LLI?

Naomi: Before going to graduate school I wanted a chance to do direct service work and to go back to South America, where I had studied abroad in college.

I liked how the Women’s Program at LLI is structured because it matches resources that already exist in Peru, like other organizations and Peruvian students looking to fill community service requirements, with people in Huaycán, a developing community on the outskirts of Lima.

I also love LLI’s focus on education for children, who take English, chess, art, and computer coding, among other classes, with the organization. There are so many great grassroots organizations like LLI that really rely on the support of interns and volunteers. You just have to know where to look!

Do you feel you got a chance to see the city from a local's perspective?

Naomi: Yes! The great thing about LLI is that you live in the community in which you work, a community that doesn’t get tourism like many parts of the country.

We traveled to the classrooms where we worked in little buses called “combis” that were always crammed with people. Taking public transportation was a great way to see what locals experience. We did stand out, of course. I got a ride once from a mototaxi (like a motorcycle with a covered back seat) and the driver recognized me from another part of the city even though I had never met him before.

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But by the end of my time in Huaycán I would walk down the main street and bump into people I knew – students, street vendors, neighbors, shop owners – and I felt very much at home.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Naomi: So many things about Huaycán are unique. The 3:00 am rooster wake-up calls, the year-round carnivals, the fresh fruit juice on the street that costs fifteen cents. I was invited to a one-year-old’s birthday party on afternoon.

Her mother, Adaly, a participant in our programs along with her two older daughters, had invited us after a workshop one day.

Her house was beautifully decorated with balloons and ribbons and was packed with cute cousins. We got to try cuy (guinea pig) and watch as Peruvian kids danced to reggaeton songs.

At the end of my six months Adaly invited us over for pachamanca, a type of Peruvian barbeque where food is cooked under the ground on hot stones for hours. People in Huaycán were so generous and welcoming with the volunteers.

What advice would you give to future LLI students?

making pachamanca

Naomi: Be flexible! Peru is a country that often moves at a different pace, and it’s something you won’t be able to change. People sometimes show up an hour late to a meeting or a class.

You often have to be creative to get things done, because resources are limited at a small non-profit in a developing community. Learn from the people around you, both the volunteers and the participants, because they have a lot to teach others.

If you manage all this, and keep your sense of humor, you will have an incredibly interesting, rewarding, and valuable experience.